AND THE E STREET BAND
The reason I’m running for president is because I can’t be Bruce Springsteen.
– Barack Obama
Official Backstreets Wikipedia
Last Thursday, at the Harvard Square theatre, I saw my rock'n'roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.
– Jon Landau, Rolling Stone magazine (1974)
When music critic Jon Landau made this proclamation during the summer of 1974, Bruce Springsteen was struggling to hold on to his fledgling career. Raised in Freehold, NJ, in a working-class family, Springsteen had been signed to Columbia Records by the legendary John Hammond, the man who had discovered Bob Dylan, and Springsteen was, in fact, touted as the “Next Dylan.” Springsteen had already released two albums both of which had garnered him plenty of critical acclaim but no commercial success, and he was in danger of being dropped from the label if he did not produce a commercially viable album. Landau believed so much in Springsteen that he joined the band in the studio, helping them to finish the new album, Born to Run.
The release of Born to Run in 1975 catapulted the 25-year-old Springsteen from a cult favorite along the Jersey Shore to national fame. Over the next thirty years, Bruce Springsteen would prove to be one of the most important figures in American music.
The E Street Band:
There'll be no oiling up with this band. The oil has been there for years and it only gets better.
– Clarence “Big Man” Clemons
Bruce Springsteen’s backing band went through a number of changes in the early years, but since then membership in the E Street band has remained remarkably stable. The band reportedly formed in October 1972, but did not become officially named the E Street Band until sometime in 1974. The original lineup included Garry Tallent (bass), Clarence Clemons (saxophone), Danny Federici (keyboards, accordion), Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez (drums), and David Sancious (keyboards). The band actually got its name from the street in Belmar, NJ, where Sancious’s mother lived. She would sometimes allow the band to rehearse in her home. In February 1974, Lopez was asked to leave the band and he was replaced by Ernest “Boom” Carter. Carter did not play with the band for long, but he made his mark as he is the one playing the drums on the album cut of “Born to Run.” Sancious and Carter left the band in February 1974 to pursue a career in jazz and were replaced by Max Weinberg (drums) and Roy Bittan (piano). This new lineup remained intact until “Little Steven” Van Zandt decided to leave the band prior to the Born in the U.S.A. tour in the mid-1980s. He was replaced by Nils Lofgren. Patti Scialfa also joined the band at this time. The E Street Band continued performing with Springsteen up until 1989 when he informed the members that their services would no longer be needed as he was pursing a different direction in his music.
Springsteen periodically used the E Street members on his projects, but the band did not officially reunite until 1999 when they embarked on a world tour which is often called the “Reunion” tour. During this time period, Van Zandt rejoined the band meaning that every member of the E Street Band back in 1975 was playing with Springsteen almost thirty years later. Unfortunately, the E Street Band lost its first member on April 17, 2008 when Danny Federici lost his battle with melanoma.
The Band Today
- Roy “The Professor” Bittan (piano, synthesizer) – Bittan joined the E Street Band in 1974 replacing David Sancious and has been featured on most of Springsteen’s albums since Born to Run. When Springsteen cut ties with the E Street Band in 1989, Bittan was the only member retained by Springsteen for the “Other Band” tour. Outside of his E Street Band work, Bittan is known for his work on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell (1977) and on Dire Straits’s Making Movies (1980). FEATURED SONG: “Backstreets”
- Clarence “Big Man” Clemons (saxophone, percussion, backing vocals) – Clemons started playing with Springsteen in 1973 and is considered an original band member. As Springsteen’s main onstage foil and the only band member to ever be featured on an album cover, the sax-wielding “Big Man” with his larger-than-life persona has come to symbolize the E Street Band. Unfortunately, Clemons, who is at least seven years older than any of his fellow band mates, has been hampered by old football injuries which have severely limited his mobility in recent years. FEATURED SONGS: “Jungleland” and “Rosalita”
- Nils Lofgren (guitar, backing vocals) – Springsteen has referred to Lofgren as “the most over-qualified second guitarist in show business.” He joined the E Street Band in 1984 following Van Zandt’s sudden departure just prior to the beginning of the Born in the U.S.A. tour. At the age of 17, Lofgren joined Neil Young’s band and played piano on After the Gold Rush (1970) despite having virtually no experience on the instrument. Lofgren is also a noted solo artist and was the leader of the band Grin. FEATURED SONG: “Youngstown”
- Patti Scialfa (vocals) – Scialfa also joined the E Street Band in 1984 prior to the beginning of the Born in the U.S.A. tour and has played a part in all of Springsteen’s projects since then. She has recorded three solo albums Rumble Doll (1993), 23rd Street Lullaby (2004) and Play It As It Lays (2007). In 1991, she married Springsteen and they have three children. Family obligations often lead to her missing long stretches of a tour. FEATURED SONG: “Brilliant Disguise”
- Garry W. Tallent (bass) – Tallent is an original band member who played in many of Springsteen’s early bands prior to the formation of the E Street Band. During the 1990s when the E Street band was inactive, Tallent moved to Nashville where he opened a recording studio and became a notable producer. FEATURED SONG: “Fire”
- “Little Steven” Van Zandt (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) – Van Zandt and Springsteen had played together for many years before Van Zandt formally joined the E Street Band in 1975 during the Born to Run tour. Van Zandt has been a very influential figure in the Jersey Shore music scene as a songwriter, arranger and producer on some of Springsteen’s projects as well as for bands such as Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. He left the E Street Band in 1984 to pursue a multitude of solo projects. Van Zandt is probably best known outside of music for his portrayal of Silvio Dante in the hit HBO series The Sopranos. He rejoined the band following its reformation at the end of the 1990s and as Springsteen’s best friend has become the main onstage foil as Clemons’s advancing age has taken its toll. FEATURED SONG: “Prove It All Night”
- “Mighty Max” Weinberg (drums) – Weinberg joined the E Street Band around the same time as Bittan and has played on every E Street album since Born to Run. In 1993, Weinberg pulled together a group of musicians, many of whom were veterans of the Jersey Shore music scene, to form the Max Weinberg 7 which became the house band for Late Night with Conan O'Brien. When the E Street Band reformed in 1999, negotiations between Springsteen and NBC allowed Weinberg to be absent from Late Night for long stretches to tour. When Conan O’Brien takes over The Tonight Show at the beginning of June, Weinberg will be forced to miss his first E Street Band shows since he joined the band back in 1974. FEATURED SONG: “Born in the U.S.A.”
Discography and Suggested Listening
When Bruce Springsteen sings on his new album, that's not 'fun', that's f**king triumph, man.
– Pete Townshend on Born to Run (1975)
As is to be expected of an artist nearing his 60th birthday and who has now been recording for over 30 years, Bruce Springsteen’s catalog is immense. Since 1973, Springsteen has released: 16 studio albums, 5 live albums and 5 compilation albums. During that time span, he has sold over 65 million albums in the United States and over 120 million worldwide. While Springsteen is widely known for heartland rock, poetic lyrics, and Americana sentiments centered on his home state of New Jersey, the diversity of his catalog is quite surprising. From his first two albums which are filled with dense lyrics conveying the wild stories of characters such as “Crazy Janey,” “Wild Billy,” and “Spanish Johnny” to the straight-laced rock of Darkness on the Edge of Town to the lush, pop arrangements of the songs off his latest album Working on a Dream, Springsteen has never been afraid to take chances with his music. In fact, many people argue that the only reason the man who once shelved an album for “being too pop” decided to fully embrace radio-friendly songs with vast commercial appeal when he released Born in the U.S.A. in the mid-1980s was so that he would forever have the freedom in his career to explore other avenues which might deviate from the type of music expected from him. Case in point, during this past decade, Springsteen has recorded three albums with the E Street Band, one solo acoustic album, and one folk album covering songs made famous by Pete Seeger. Below is a listing of all his studio albums to date.
Albums with the E Street Band
- Charles Giordano (organ, accordion) – Giordano was a member of the Sessions Band which toured behind Springsteen’s 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. He joined the E Street Band for the European leg of the 2007-2008 Magic tour when original band member Danny Federici took a leave of absence to battle melanoma and has remained with the band following Federici’s passing in April 2008. FEATURED SONG: “Spirit in the Night”
- Curtis King (backing vocals) – King was also a member of the Sessions Band. He is joining the E Street Band for the first time for the Working on a Dream tour.
- Cindy Mizelle (backing vocals) – Like King, Mizelle was a member of the Sessions Band who is joining the E Street Band for the first time this year.
- “Sister Soozie” Tyrell (violin, backing vocals, percussion, acoustic guitar) – Tyrell began working with Springsteen in the early-1990s and has been featured on every one of his albums since. She first joined the E Street Band for the 2002-2003 The Rising tour and was also a part of the Magic tour. FEATURED SONG: “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day”
- Jay Weinberg (drums) – Eighteen-year-old Weinberg will be substituting for his father in the E Street Band once The Tonight Show begins airing again at the beginning of June. Currently, Jay is only slated to be playing the first couple of weeks of the European leg of the tour. FEATURED SONG: “Born to Run”
- Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973) – Springsteen’s first album was released to critical acclaim but didn’t even sell 25,000 copies in its first year. The heavy-lyrics and folk-rock music on this album, along with Springsteen’s association with John Hammond, led to comparisons to Bob Dylan. Rolling Stone ranked this album as 379 on the magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest albums of all time. FEATURED TRACK: “Lost in the Flood”
- The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (1973) – Like its predecessor, this album was well-received critically, but didn’t have any commercial success until Born to Run catapulted Springsteen to national fame. The transition from “Incident on 57th Street” into “Rosalita” is one of the most famous moments on a Springsteen record. Ranked by Rolling Stone as number 132 in the magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest albums of all time. FEATURED TRACK: “New York City Serenade”
- Born to Run (1975) – This is Springsteen’s breakthrough album which led to not only critical acclaim, but also to commercial success for the first time in his career. For the first time, Springsteen used the “four corners” approach in sequencing the album. The first song of each side was an uplifting tale of escape while the last song on each side was a sad epic of loss, betrayal, and defeat. Despite Springsteen’s inability to escape the stereotype of his Born in the U.S.A. years, this album is considered his greatest masterpiece. Ranked by Rolling Stone as number 18 in the magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest albums of all time. FEATURED TRACK: “Thunder Road”
- Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978) – Released following a legal battle with his first manager, this album is a lot starker than Springsteen’s previous ones. The tour that followed the release of this album is generally considered to be Springsteen’s greatest. Radio broadcasts of a number of shows during this tour resulted in some of the most coveted bootlegs among fans. Ranked by Rolling Stone as number 151 in the magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest albums of all time. FEATURED TRACK: “Candy's Room”
- The River (1980) – This two disc album featured many leftover songs from the previous album and, hence, led to a mix of simple pop songs and very solemn numbers. Ranked by Rolling Stone as number 250 in the magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest albums of all time. FEATURED TRACKS: “Hungry Heart” and “Independence Day”
- Born in the U.S.A. (1984) – Following the release of Nebraska a few years previously, Springsteen returned to recording with the E Street Band for Born in the U.S.A.. This album would make Springsteen one of the biggest stars of the 1980s and would go on to sell over 15 million copies and produce a record-tying seven Top 10 hit singles in the United States. The synth-heavy, radio-friendly arrangements mask the very serious topics addressed by the songs’ lyrics. To this day, “Born in the U.S.A.” is one of the most misinterpreted rock songs as people tend to think of it as a rally-cry of American pride instead of the harsh critique of the United States and its treatment of veterans returning from Vietnam that the lyrics elicit. Ranked by Rolling Stone as number 85 in the magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest albums of all time. FEATURED TRACK: “Born in the U.S.A.”
- Tunnel of Love (1987) – Following the massive success that he experienced in the mid-1980s, Springsteen took a step back and recorded an introspective album on relationships in the midst of the failure of his first marriage for his final project with the E Street Band for more than a decade. In fact, the band members were used so sparingly on the album, that many people don’t even consider Tunnel of Love an “E Street Band album.” Ranked by Rolling Stone as number 475 in the magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest albums of all time. FEATURED TRACK: “Tunnel of Love”
- The Rising (2002) – Springsteen’s first album with the E Street Band in more than a decade was his reflection on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. During The Rising world tour which followed the release of the album, Springsteen and the E Street Band played a 10-night-stand at Giants Stadium in New Jersey during which over 560,000 tickets were sold. FEATURED TRACK: “My City of Ruins”
- Magic (2007) – Following two projects without the E Street Band, Springsteen recorded this album focusing on the disillusionment over the state of America in 2007. FEATURED TRACK: “Long Walk Home”
- Working on a Dream (2009) – Springsteen and the E Street Band’s latest album was released in January 2009 to coordinate with their performance during the Super Bowl half-time show. Following the dark material of Magic this album was conceived as a much lighter album evinced by some of Springsteen’s most pop-sounding arrangements. The Working on a Dream tour beings in San Jose, CA, on April 1, 2009. FEATURED TRACK: “My Lucky Day”
Where to Begin:
The diversity of Bruce Springsteen’s catalog makes it very difficult to recommend a starting place without knowing the type of music a person likes. Perhaps the easiest way for somebody to get acquainted with at least some parts of all his albums is to start with The Essential: Bruce Springsteen (2003). Unlike Greatest Hits (1995), The Essential at least touches on his entire career. Once somebody decides on some songs they like, then the best course of action is to listen to the album from which the songs come from in its entirety. The majority of Springsteen’s albums have a common theme running through the songs and many times, a song can strike somebody in an entirely different way when heard in the context of the album. For people wanting to go straight to the albums, Born to Run is the place to start. For lack of a better way of putting it, this album represents what Springsteen is all about and, hence, is the best starting place. People who really enjoy songs like “Night” or “Born to Run” off this album would then probably enjoy Darkness on the Edge of Town while people who prefer the epics, “Jungleland” and “Backstreets,” might want to check out Springsteen’s earlier works. However, these are just some very loose guidelines. Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem was right when he said the best way to experience Springsteen is to “JUST START FROM THE BEGINNNG.”
I couldn't believe how happy his music made me and how good it was. He's a gift, and I didn't know. I mean, I knew 'Born in the USA' and 'Glory Days,' but I didn't know that he covered so much ground, and there was something in his music that touched what I was going through, the process of falling back in love with my America.
– Brandon Flowers of The Killers
- Nebraska (1982) – This album was a serious departure from what fans had come to expect out of Springsteen. Recorded on a 4-track cassette recorder at his home, Springsteen originally conceived this as an album for the E Street Band. However, after recording it with the band, Springsteen felt that the songs were more powerful in their original, acoustic arrangements. Over the years, electric versions of “Atlantic City,” “Johnny 99” and “Reason to Believe” have been performed by the E Street Band. FEATURED TRACK: “ Atlantic City”
- Lucky Town (1992) – Released on the same day as Human Touch these albums marked Springsteen’s first releases since parting ways with the E Street Band. Randy Jackson now famous as a judge on American Idol played bass on this album. Springsteen toured behind these albums on what is commonly referred to as the “Other Band” tour during 1992-1993. FEATURED TRACK: “Better Days”
- Human Touch (1992) – Released on the same day as Lucky Town these albums marked Springsteen’s first releases since parting ways with the E Street Band. Randy Jackson now famous as a judge on American Idol played bass on this album. This album is frequently mentioned as his worst by fans. FEATURED TRACK: “Human Touch”
- The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995) – This album was Springsteen’s first acoustic album since he released Nebraska in 1982. Tom Joad is the main character in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and many of the songs reflect on rural life in the United States and Mexico. A highlight of the Magic tour was when Tom Morello joined the E Street Band and they played an electric version of the title song. FEATURED TRACK: “The Ghost of Tom Joad”
- Devils and Dust (2005) – This album released after The Rising and before We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions was Springsteen’s third acoustic album. The songs focus on the life of a soldier. Springsteen undertook a solo tour after this album’s release. FEATURED TRACK: “Devils and Dust”
- We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006) – This album marked the first time that Springsteen had released an album comprised of all covers. These folk songs were either written or made famous by Pete Seeger. The album was recorded with a large group of lesser known musicians at Springsteen’s New Jersey farm. FEATURED TRACK: “O Mary Don’t You Weep”
Against Me! The Gaslight Anthem The Killers
Arcade Fire Juliana Hatfield Ted Leo
The Avett Brothers The Hold Steady Sara Quinn
Bon Jovi Wyclef Jean Tegan and Sara
The Bouncing Souls Mat Kearney Josh Ritter
Do you like joy? If you do, you should go and see Bruce Springsteen.
– Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show
Ask any Springsteen fan and they will tell you that there only two types of people in this world, those that love Bruce Springsteen and those that have never seen him perform live. For all his strengths as a songwriter, any fan will tell you that the one thing that truly sets him apart from his contemporaries is his ability to put on fantastic shows night after night, year after year, decade after decade. There is absolutely nothing fancy about what he does onstage, but with one of the strongest song catalogs of any artist and a tight band behind him, Springsteen is able to create magic every time he steps on a stage.
While listening to Bruce Springsteen’s studio albums will demonstrate his often genius songwriting, the best way to truly experience Springsteen is through live recordings. Springsteen has released five live albums, three with the E Street Band. For years, fans had been begging for a live release and finally they were rewarded when Live/1975-1985 was released in 1986. This three disc compilation contains some of the band’s best performances from their first decade. Early Springsteen can be seen on the Hammersmith Odeon London ‘75 CD and DVD which was released in 2006. However, probably the two best representations of the E Street Band in its present form are the Live in New York City (2000) and Live in Barcelona (2003) DVDs.
The officially released material is often fantastic, but everyone knows that bootlegs are many times the best way to judge a band’s performance since they are unencumbered by the heavy editing that official releases often undergo. Springsteen is one of, if not the, most heavily bootlegged artists and today it is rare for him to perform and a bootleg not eventually surface. Below is a very small sampling of some of the more famous bootlegs from past tours:
What to Expect at Bonnaroo:
With a Springsteen concert, there is really no “show” besides the band playing on the stage. Sure, there are lights that change colors and every once in a while a symbolic video may play along with a song, but Springsteen would be vilified by his very devoted fanbase were he to fall too far into the trappings of a typical concert these days. Instead, all there will be is a relatively bare-bones stage (although footage from the rehearsals seem to indicate something slightly more extravagant than in tours past), a stage full of musicians dressed in black, and a man who plays and performs with more passion and conviction than most anyone to ever step foot on a stage.
As for what might be played, the fact that anybody is attempting to predict what to expect from Bruce Springsteen more than two months in advance of the show is laughable. The spontaneity and unpredictability of a Springsteen show is what keeps fans intrigued enough to attend hundreds of shows. However, once the Working on a Dream Tour begins on April 1, 2009, the setlists of the shows will be posted on both Springsteen’s Official Site as well as on the main Fansite and general patters may start to develop. One thing people should be aware of is that they should not go into the show expecting to hear all of Springsteen’s “hits.” The chances that he would play “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Glory Days,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “I’m on Fire,” “Secret Garden,” “Streets of Philadelphia,” and “Hungry Heart” are pretty much slim to none. In fact, barring a huge change from the direction this tour seems to be heading, the chance of him playing more than two of these songs at Bonnaroo isn’t very good.
Since there really is no way to make a strong prediction on what possibly will be played, below are ten songs that have been heavily rotated in tours past and may be strong possibilities for Bonnaroo:
Badlands Born to Run No Surrender The Promised Land Out in the Street
She’s the One The Rising Lonesome Day 10th Avenue Freezeout Dancing in the Dark
IN MEMORY OF ORIGINAL E STREET BAND MEMBER "PHANTOM DAN" FEDERICI WHO LOST HIS BATTLE WITH MELANOMA ON APRIL 17, 2008, PLEASE CONSIDER CONTRIBUTING TO THE DANNY FUND